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Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act in its final phase in Congress: Will it be become law?

Syrian Army defector Caesar is testifying before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in Washington, DC - 31 July 2014 (Getty)

Syrian Army defector Caesar is testifying before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in Washington, DC - 31 July 2014 (Getty)

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Some Syrian activists working in Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Saturday, 7 December, that H.R. 1677, or the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act (CSCPA), has reached the voting stage in the United States Senate three years after it was proposed.

On 7 December, the CSCPA was included along with the Budget and Finance Act of the United States Department of Defense, which has the unanimous approval of the two parties’ leaders; Republicans and Democrats. Therefore, this would stand a greater chance of adopting the Caesar Act next week.

The story of the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act

The CSCPA is named in honor of a Syrian military defector code-named Caesar, who leaked 55,000 photos in 2014, depicting 11,000 of detainees killed under torture in security branch prisons.

The legislation H.R. 1677, known as the Caesar Act, was passed by the House of Representatives twice in previous sessions in 2016 and 2017 and then again was passed this year. However, the legislation remained pending in the Senate due to the excessive acts of American chosen for the Senate’s discussion every year.

Bills are presented in Congress through the House of Representatives and then transferred to the Senate, where the Senate majority leader, now Senator Mitch McConnell, has to arrange the bills to put them up for debate in the Senate.

However, the bills that have been introduced are large.  The leader must select the most necessary bill according to a certain priority and return what was written down to the passage again to Congress in the next year’s session. That is what happened with the “Caesar” ACT twice so far.

Muna Jundi, a lawyer from Americans for a Free Syria, told Enab Baladi that the Syrian-American non-profit organizations that help enact legislation and policies have worked on the passage of H.R. 1677 to the Senate through enlisting it with another legislation.

“The National Defense Authorization Act”related to the budget of the US Defense Department is considered the “guaranteed” law approved by the US Senate every year for more than fifty years. The version of the National Defense Law must be voted, amid attempts made by the non-profit organizations to persuade senators to support it and pass the bill. Then, it will be sent to the White House and signed by the President and becomes a formal law.

CSCPA holds war criminals accountable and helps with the formation of the Syria’s new constitution

H.R. 1677 provides for the imposition of sanction measures on the sources of the financing that fuel the Syrian war.

First of all, the legislation establishes additional sanctions and financial restrictions on the most important institutions and entities— including the Syrian Central Bank, oil producers, construction companies and mercenaries—that allow Assad and his allies, Iran and Russia to obtain money to commit war crimes against the Syrian population.

Title II of the CSCPA intends to drain offshore bank accounts of war criminals in Syria including the Councils of Ministers, leaders of the armed forces, employees of the scientific studies and research center, who are manufacturing Assad’s chemical weapons.

Title III of the CSCPA provides new solutions to protect civilians in Syria, requiring multiple reports from the US agencies which in return provide military and non-military methods. Those methods protect civilians subjected to bombardments, or displacement as well as the Syrian refugees who are stranded at the border.

Title IV says that only the US President can lift these sanctions when the Syrian government takes realistic steps towards guaranteeing human rights, including ending the bombing, releasing the detainees, and allowing the safe and voluntary return of Syrian refugees.

Lawyer Mona Jundi, who is also a member of the Constitutional Committee from the list of civil society, believes that the importance of the CSCPA lies in the fact that it is used as a pressure instrument and has advantages along with other factors such as the devaluation of the Syrian pound. Moreover, the non-governmental bodies within the committee (the opposition and civil society) can use it to force the Syrian government to negotiate with them, according to Jundi.

Collective efforts

Several Syrian-American organizations participated in supporting the CSCPA, and the role of Americans for Free Syria was represented by “lobby groups”.

Lobby groups include permanent representatives in Congress, who contribute to providing acts and policies and push for their passage.

Mona Jundi said that the organization has so far been able to pass laws such as the Iran Sanctions Acts. Furthermore, the organization is working to pass acts, prohibiting the use of funds earmarked for humanitarian assistance in the interests of the Syrian government.

Jundi indicated that the organization, in which she is a member of the Political Committee, is the only Syrian-American organization that is involved in drafting and pushing acts between organizations specialized in Syrian affairs. She confirmed that Americans for Free Syria is trying to pass acts that it believes are “important to the Syrian cause.”

Some organizations, such as the Syrian American Council and the Syrian Emergency Task Force, are helping to promote the CSCPA and educate members of Congress of its importance to urge them to approve it.

Other organizations are working on holding events and making donations for the electoral campaigns for the congress representatives, while presenting their problems and educating them about what is happening in Syria.

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